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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19694

Mr CADMAN (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of the outcome of the COAG discussions on 29 August concerning further cooperative and terrorism measures?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Mitchell for his question. I can inform him and the House that the outcome of the discussions at COAG on 29 August, regarding cooperation on antiterrorism measures, was a big fat zero due to the walkout led by the New South Wales Premier, Mr Carr. When Mr Carr led the other premiers out so that they could don their football garb, play a game of poker and generally engage in a publicity stunt, they turned their backs on a discussion of Indigenous child protection, they turned their backs on a discussion of a national bushfire inquiry and, importantly for the purposes of the member for Mitchell's question, they turned their backs on further cooperation between the governments of this country on counter-terrorism measures. They regarded a photo opportunity for the tabloids of Australia as being more important than a cooperative discussion on counter-terrorism measures.

That is a measure of the priorities of the New South Wales Premier—a man who, when it suited him, was prepared to say that fighting terrorism was above party politics and that we all had to work together. I remember that, as he got up to walk out, I said, `Bob, what about the discussion on counter-terrorism?' He said, `You know my position.' I knew his position. Frankly, I do not think he would know a position on the field of the football game he claimed to represent after he got into the guernsey, but I will put that to one side.

In the absence of having a proper discussion about this matter, I can inform the parliament that I have today written again to the premiers and chief ministers asking them to urgently reconsider their opposition to the Criminal Code Amendment Bill. Under the existing provisions of the Criminal Code, which was in part based on a reference of power from the states to the Commonwealth, the agreement of the states is required to make amendments to the process for listing terrorist organisations or entities.

The bill, now before another place, would allow the Attorney-General, on advice from our security agencies, to list a terrorist organisation without the need for that organisation to be also proscribed by the United Nations Security Council. The United Nations Security Council currently can only list organisations that are related to al-Qaeda, the Taliban or bin Laden. The United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the United States all provide for a listing process which is independent of the United Nations. I repeat: the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Canada all provide for a listing process which is independent of the Security Council of the United Nations.

The stance of the opposition in this place is, apparently, the same as the premiers, although at the COAG meeting they did not pay me the courtesy of telling me—and I do not express that in any personal sense—and telling the national government of Australia where they stood before they got up off their chairs and walked out to don their football guernseys. Apparently that was more important to these eight leaders than the counter-terrorism measures. They did not tell me precisely what their views are but, as best as I can divine from correspondence, their position is apparently the same—surprise, surprise—as the view of the federal Labor opposition. What they are saying is that you have to have a separate piece of legislation every time you want to list another organisation. We regard that as impractical. We regard that as being out of step with a process which is supported by the Blair government in the United Kingdom, the Chretien government in Canada, the Clark government in New Zealand and, of course, the Bush administration in the United States.

What we want and what we ask the states to consent to, in accordance with the agreement that I signed on behalf of the Commonwealth, is a regulation making power on behalf of the Attorney-General which includes very extensive safeguards: judicial review, disallowance by either house of parliament and a two-year sunset clause. So anybody who says that this is an irresponsible grab for power ignores the fact that what we want is a bill whereby, instead of a new piece of legislation having to be passed each time you get a terrorist organisation that should be banned, the Attorney-General puts down a regulation, it is subject to disallowance, there is a two-year sunset clause and it is also subject to judicial review.

That represents a belts-and-braces protection of civil liberties. People who oppose that kind of measure are not serious about a legislative framework for dealing with terrorism. That is why I say to the federal opposition: why don't you reverse the tables for a change, and why don't you tell the Labor states what to do on this issue? Why doesn't the Leader of the Opposition show a bit of leadership? Why doesn't he ring up Bob Carr and say to Bob Carr: `You get behind the federal government. You give them a bit of support'? I say to the Leader of the Opposition: you should show the New South Wales Premier what you are made of. That is what I say to the Leader of the Opposition: you tell the New South Wales Premier to get into line, to get behind the national interest and to support the government's legislation.